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Why French is the language of rap

ANALYSIS – French rappers acclaim our language, for its lexicon and its phonetics.

Who says “rap”, also says ready-made phrases. Prejudices have harsh words. Today, however, the themes addressed in this musical genre are very varied and some artists apply themselves to producing elaborate texts, nourished by literary references.

This importance granted to the language tends to gain ground which allows Julien Barret, linguist and author of Rap or the craft of rhymeto draw an amusing historical parallel:Rap is built in opposition to the classic and measured aesthetic theorized by Boileau: it doesn’t matter if sometimes we do a little too much. It recalls the quarrel between the Gluckists and the Piccinists in the 19th century. Rap would be essentially Gluckist: it values ​​​​above all the text“. A text exclusively written in French. How to explain it?

French allows a “confrontation of registers”

First, why French? For a question of “credibility”, replies Georgio, a leading rapper. Rappers who choose this language mostly write their own lyrics. Thus, French is a necessity; it is a way of proving to your audience that you have written for them and that you are addressing them. Rap is, indeed, music.instinctivewhich seeks to reach everyone.

But what French do we speak in rap? For Julien Barret: “The register used in rap is at first sight popular or even slang.” And to specify: “Rap has in fact always been built on a confrontation of language levels.” For example, the NTM group uses the imperfect subjunctive: “What did you want me to finish” in New Slaughter and Booba uses the past simple in purple banknotes : “We returned to Dagobah, we deserted the VIP squares“. French makes it possible to associate rare turns of phrase with more “crude” terms, which makes it “the most effective language for expressing feelings“says Georgio.

This mix between very marked language levels in French also contributes to giving rise to a kind of coded language with a very wide lexical variety. According to Julien Barret, this refers to “the long tradition of coded poetry which goes back to the troubadours and which today encourages the use of acronyms, the verlan…”.

For the linguist, French is also a language that “offers multiple phonetic benefits for rapping“. Already the many homonyms make it possible to play with double meanings like this rhyme taken from the song Black sky from Nekfeu: “All in the same boat but where are we going? / We’re all blind in this convoy (who can we see?)“In this search for the”right word“the rap clearly took for Georgio”the relay of French song“. More for the linguist Julien Barret: “It is an accentual Latin language with the same duration of syllable pronunciation: French, like any monotonous language, favors rhyme.

Rap redefines the way of writing verses

As the Parisian rapper Hyacinthe explains to us, in rap the metric of the verses is replaced by the “beat” (beat) which imposes the rhythm of the diction. Then for Julien Barret “new figures are invented by rap: this is the case of multisyllabic rhyme, very little used since the Middle Ages and rediscovered by rappers“. It consists in making syllables rhyme no longer at the end of words but in a disseminated way throughout the sentence. A good example is found in the song To write from Nekfeu: “No pretense, even if the signs are engraved it’s dirty here / All undecided despite the peaks we climb it’s very serious.”

Finally, and contrary to popular belief, a large part of rap contributes to enriching the French language by introducing new words or forgotten terms. Georgio likes to introduce rare words into his texts. Like him, many artists resort to inventions. Julien Barret explains: “Rappers often adapt borrowings by Frenchifying them (“snapper” to use the Snapchat application for example) or by diverting their meaning. Many neologisms are born thanks to contractions or the use of suffixes (the “zer” at the end of words in Booba for example).»


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